Two Yazidi women who were taken as sex slaves by the Isis terror group have been awarded the most prestigious human rights award in Europe.
Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar were captured by Isis fighters after the group launched a major assault across northern Iraq in 2014. Both now campaign for Yazidi women and were jointly awarded the Sakharov prize on Wednesday.
The Sakharov award is named in honour of the nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. The annual freedom of thought prize recognises exceptional contribution to the global fight for human rights.
The prize money is £45,000 which will be awarded during a ceremony in December.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said awarding the honour to both women is “a very symbolic and significant decision to support these two survivors who came to Europe as refugees”.
Taken by Isis, trafficked and sold into sexual slavery, Murad, 23, has survived incomprehensible brutality to become one of the most important voices for the Yazidi community.
She has appeared before the United Nations in New York and is now an ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking for the UN’s Drugs and Crime body. Murad is represented by Amal Clooney, who, in a damning speech to the United Nations, condemned the inaction taken by leaders to stop what she called a genocide being committed by Isis. She said women like Murad had their bodies “sold and used as battlefields” and continue to suffer greatly in regions under Isis control.
Bashar, 18, was captured alongside Murad and escaped in March. She suffered injuries to her face and is now blind in one eye after stepping over a land mine as she tried to flee her captors.
Murad was a guest speaker at Tina Brown’s Women in the World summit earlier in October, where she described how dramatically her life had changed since Isis launched its insurgency across northern Iraq.
“I worked on a farm, we had a simple life,” she said. “We were poor, but we were very happy before Daesh came.
“When they came, they attacked the Yazidis. They said that Yazidis were not people of the book and they wanted to wipe them out. And this is what they did to us: they killed more than 5,000 people. They also took more than 6,000 women and children into captivity. ”
Isis has decreed non-Muslim women may be taken and sold as sex slaves by fighters. More than 3,000 Yazidi women and children remain in captivity.
“I was one of the girls taken in the group who were over the age of nine. When they took us they told us we were the sabia [slaves]. They took us to Mosul and then in Mosul they separated us and they committed all types of rape against us. They took us for that.
“The women who were old, who they were not interested in having sex with, were killed, including my mother. My sisters-in-law and nieces were taken to be sex slaves.”
Murad has met with many Yazidi refugees living in camps in neighbouring countries and their stories of captivity, she says, are filled with experiences even more barbaric than her own.
“I met many victims when I was at the refugee camp in Kurdistan and I spoke with a lot of the victims who were brought with me to Germany. When you listen to these women and they tell you about the crimes they have seen, the rapes on large scales, ten times more… I will never forget my family, I will never forget the crimes they [Isis] have committed against me, but when I listen to these women and what happened to them I forgot my own story because they are more brutal.”
The Yazidi community one of the oldest religious minorities in Iraq and predominately ethnic Kurds. Yazidis have been heavily persecuted by Isis, who consider them to be heretics. Thousands have been killed by fighters and thousands more taken captive by the group or sold into sexual slavery.